Saturday, August 29, 2009

Harriers - up close and personal.

Yours truly (and a few fellow aviation aficionados) found ourselves back out at Rick Husband/Amarillo Int. Airport again this morning to photograph the Harriers taking off.

Two more had flown in after dark so we were pleasantly surprised to see ten Harriers lining the tarmac on the Tac-Air ramp when we arrived.

All were from the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

They were heading back home after "blowing up Sierra Hotel India Tango" out in the desert ranges of Marine Air Ground Combat center at Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

According to several of the pilots we talked to (who graciously gave us the full nickel- tour and let us see these amazing aircraft up close) they had recently deployed back to the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They had spent the night in Amarillo (after letting off some much deserved steam out at the Big Texan I hear) and were at the half-way point of their journey back home.

Friendly as all-get-out, the pilots let us tug on a flap, stroke a wing, examine the gun pods and basically drool over their cool rides. The only thing we couldn't do climb in the cockpit or take a ride.

Here's Dale Stanton taking the opportunity to see a harrier up close and personal:

You can kind of see me talking to one of the pilots in this photo by Dale Stanton.

One of the pilots talked to us for over 15 minutes, explaining all the mechanisms behind the mechanisms and said (although he loved his Harrier) he was very-much looking forward to his future ride, the F-35 that is if Obama didn't yank funding of the Harrier-like (but stealthy) Joint Strike Fighter.

There were two different types of Harriers on the tarmac, the McDonnell Douglas-BAe/Boeing AV-8B Harrier II (with a large Raytheon APG-65 digital radar in the nose) and the "Night Harrier" AV-8B Harrier II Plus with a targeting FLIR in the nose.

Here are comparison photos where you can really see the difference between the two types:

The Harrier II Plus (below) sports the new Raytheon APG-65 digital radar and thusly it kind it it looks like it has had a nose-job to resemble an F-18, you are right. Under the radome is the same radar that is currently fitted in the FA-18 Hornet.

While we were waiting for the harriers to take off we were treated to a totally unexpected free air-show of sorts.

For a normally quiet Saturday, the airport was bustling with activity with many pilots (obviously) taking advantage of the beautiful flying weather - coolish and clear.

An USAF SOF C-130 also spent the night and we got to see it depart.

Look closely and you can see visible vorteces coming off the propeller blades.

(click on the photo to enlarge it)

Next came this vintage and shiny BT-13 Vultee Valiant (which i've seen flying around Amarillo often) usually out or Tradewinds Airport.

Then we were treated to a gaggle of local day-fliers. The ramp started to take on the look of a traffic jam.

We couldn't help but spot this Beechcraft 55 Baron that looked like something Barbie would fly.

And then this "jolly good" FNJ Stearman taxied by looking mellow in bright yellow.

Finally the main event was upon us. The pilots spooled up the engines on their Harriers and began to roll out with each one of the pilots giving us a wave as they went by.

They taxied down past Amarillo's downtown skyline shimmering brightly in the background.

Here one taking off - wow what a roar!

Here's a couple by Frank Murphy. These two photos are geo-tagged so you can see exactly where they were taken at.

In closing - we all had a great time and enjoyed the winged-spectacle.

Special thanks to the Aces of MCAS Cherry Point for indulging the wishes of some airport bums.

Semper Fi!

-Steve Douglass


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